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The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [5]

Mini Book Review Blitz!


Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

Book Info: Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan (Gods of Blood and Powder #2) [4.5/5 stars]

I’m not going to gush again. Okay, I’m not going to gush more than a paragraph. Wrath of Empire continued to solidify this saga as one of my new all-time favorites. I elaborate quite a bit in my reviews of Promise of Blood (where it all starts) and Sins of Empire (where it all continues), so suffice to say here that the level of quality in these books never diminishes. It has phenomenal characters, excellent relationship dynamics (non-romantic, just great human connections), on-point pacing, rounded world-building, and brilliant dry humor. It’s my favorite series to recommend at the moment, and I can only hope the final book in this second trilogy knocks my socks off too. :)


Bitter Blood by Rachel Caine

Book Info: Bitter Blood by Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampires #13) [3/5 stars]

Word vomit review headed your way:

I swear this series could be tightened up considerably if the characters didn’t spend so much time rehashing things. I’d also prefer more focus on advancing external plot points. However, that’s not really the point of the story. The point is to spend time with the characters and really immerse in their thoughts and feelings. The bad guys are secondary. I like these characters well enough. I’ve read enough of Rachel Caine to note that we’d be compatible friends because we definitely don’t have the same taste in boys. I’ve been working my way through this series gradually for about ten years, and it’s interesting to me how much more often I notice relationship dynamics between the main characters that are really unhealthy. It certainly adds to the drama and perpetuates the series. But at the same time I now find it harder to read. A lot of the arguments seem senseless. But that kind of makes them the most realistic, which is oddly compelling. It’s probably why I keep coming back to the series – to see where everyone ends up in the end. I am getting tired of the “scary” vampires doing “scary” things but never actually hurting anybody thing that’s going on. It lowers any stakes (pun) I might feel because everything is so vanilla. However, that also means the violence is age-appropriate and I should probably stick to adult urban fantasy after this (I won’t) if I want something substantial. Overall, it’s a staple YA vampire series that I’ve mostly enjoyed. I’d have a hard time feeling good about recommending it to teens because of the toxic relationships and sexual content (nothing explicit, just promotion of underaged sex. The main character is quite young with a much older boyfriend), but I’d also feel off recommending it to adults because it doesn’t give a lot to sink your teeth into (another pun) other than teenage angst (which apparently is entertaining enough to keep me reading). The overall story arcs are a lot of fun, it just draws them out a bit too long. On the flipside, the novels are short, so if you can breeze through them your experience might be a lot better than mine. Haha how about that for a review? Happy reading, peeps!


Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

Book Info: Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews (Innkeeper Chronicles #2) [3.5/5 stars]

I liked the first book (everything by these authors is enjoyable), but the Sweep in Peace was better on all accounts. It took advantage of the excellent premise by actually highlighting different alien species (which is never a given in sci-fi… I’m so glad it wasn’t an opportunity wasted here ). It gave more depth to the relationships. And it even brought in a few familiar faces from other IA series, which was a total delight. This is another series that functions as a perfect palate-cleansers between heavier spec-fic reads. I devoured it in a single day, and it was a complete abundance of fun. This is a very genre-hybrid series. It reads like an urban fantasy in both writing style and supernatural content, has magical components usually reserved for high fantasy, but leans sci-fi because of how this universe functions and the inclusion of multiple extraterrestrials. I love it when books break the rules. This is a fun breath of fresh air, but it’s nowhere near my favorite work from IA. If you’re new to these authors, I’d say start with either Kate Daniels (the first book is so “meh” but the series rapidly improves from there and becomes amazing) or Hidden Legacy (please ignore the cheesy covers, lol) to see what these authors can really do.


by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [56]: April 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

April 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

My TTTBR post is a little early this month, but I finished all the titles on last month’s list and found myself needing to get organized. I’ve been much more active in the book community since the end of January and have started requesting and accepting review copies from publishers again… and I’m a bit overwhelmed (and very excited!). I should be reading the ARCs in order of pending publication, but I couldn’t help but start the new Dresden book asap. :)


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack

Title: Anya and the Dragon

Author: Sofiya Pasternack

Series: Anya #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Anya and the Dragon is the story of fantasy and mayhem in tenth century Eastern Europe, where headstrong eleven-year-old Anya is a daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family. -Goodreads

The Review:

Anya and the Dragon was a lovely middle grade story with enough interesting elements to make it a great pick for kids to read with their parents.

I haven’t had a lot of patience for middle grade novels lately, but considering the premise and the fact that it got recognized at the ALA Media Awards, I decided to accept a review copy…

And I liked it. ^_^

It’s always fun to see different cultures represented in fantasy books, and I thought the author did an especially good job at immersing the reader in the “Tenth century Eastern Europe” lifestyle (insofar as is appropriate for a middle grade book). It also covered a few more serious topics dealing with prejudice and oppression of Jewish families at that time, which was nice to see. Both of these factors are why I think the book has so much hype.

Anya was a great main character. Faced with a moral dilemma, she showcased her ability to make hard decisions, and I appreciate that she was so humble even when she was being most brave. A lot of MG heroes seem to have to put on over-dramatic airs and make a lot of stupid decisions to prove they’re worthy, but Anya’s demeanor was subtle and lovely. The positive takeaway was that actions driven by kindness can be powerful too.

Here’s the caveat: there weren’t a lot of fantasy elements through most of the novel (well, that’s not strictly true – they were there in the background, but never really felt like the focus). The selling point was the relatable main character and the cultural immersion. The dragon doesn’t come into play until much later in the book, and when it does, it’s vastly different than I think most fantasy readers will expect. Mostly because it’s geared to be more accessible to kids. It’s friendlier storytelling, if that makes sense. I didn’t dislike it – it was actually kind of fun to be surprised a bit, but when I became apparent that the fantasy elements were secondary, I felt my enthusiasm and attention waning. That aside, it was still a fun story.

Recommendations: this is a lovely, culturally-infused middle grade book that would be fun to read with a child (or to have them read on their own). I think it may be a tad too accessible for adult fantasy enthusiasts, but it’s entertaining nonetheless if you’re in the mood for something light. It’s definitely better than most middle grade novels I’ve tried lately, so we’ll give it big kudos for that. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs [March 10, 2020]

Title: Smoke Bitten

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #12

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them. Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill–until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived. Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything–even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory. It won’t, can’t, remain. Not if I have anything to say about it. -Goodreads

The Review

Smoke Bitten was superb!

The plot was very engaging, involving the mystery of a body-snatching Smoke Creature, who’s identity I actually figured out around the same time as the main character. Go me!! But more importantly, I love it when books can get you involved in solving things out of your own volition. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Briggs. I’ve been following the Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega books almost from the start, and the saga is a strong favorite. That said, I was let down by book #11 and said as much in my (somewhat) critical review. That book didn’t have the same spark as the books before it and I started questioning whether the series was being drawn out past it’s prime. My main criticism was that Mercy wasn’t as pivotal a role-player in advancing plot as I thought she should’ve been (instead seemed more focused on the mundane). Soooo not the case here – she was central to all the happenings, and back to being that beautiful instigator of change I’ve loved her for. Smoke Bitten was easily one of the strongest in the series. It had an excellent combination of action, humor, sentiment, and world-building. This is a showcase of Briggs at her finest, and I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next!

The story is full of amazing characters, and the depth we have with each of them at this point is remarkable. This novel was a success for me partially because Briggs managed to take the deep connections between a few of the characters and forge them even closer. The way Mercy related to specific characters in Smoke Bitten was my favorite aspect of the story. As a whole, I love the pack dynamics. I love the relationships with magical beings. And I love the number of players involved that make future books so compelling with their boundless possibilities. Excuse me while I fangirl a minute…

Recommendations: I consider Mercy Thompson a staple of the urban fantasy genre. It’s also one of the easiest to recommend (most of the urban fantasy series I geek out about usually come with disclaimers… this one is just straight-forward awesome). It’s a top 5 (uf) for me. I’d especially recommend it to anyone wanting to get into the genre. I’d strongly suggest reading both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega books in order of publication. The crossover is incredibly high, and you won’t get the full experience in later Mercy books if you don’t read both.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick. Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much. Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged. –Goodreads

The Review:

The first book was good, with flashes of brilliance… this one was better.

I’ve heard so much about this series. When talking to normal people (those who don’t read more than just casually), Abercrombie’s name comes up a lot. It’s a mainstream series that, for the most part, lives up to all the hype. It’s credited as one of the first Grimdark novels, and that sentiment is much more apparent in this second book than the first. Authors these days are taking things a lot further, but you can definitely see the base influence here. I held off on reading it for several years because said normal people kept talking about how hard the torture scenes were to read. As it happens, almost every other Grimdark series I’ve read so far has been worse (much worse), so don’t let that scare you if you’re holding off for similar reasons (or don’t let it overly entice you haha).

The Blade Itself (book #1) came across very much like a setup novel. The characters were worth spending time with and the overall story was interesting, but when it came down to actual plot-progression, not a whole lot happened. That’s where Before They Are Hanged improved: pivotal moments happened left and right and the story finally caught up with all the other brilliant story components. I loved it. There were a few moments in particular that I’m still thinking about weeks later, which says a lot about the content. I’ll be reading everything I can get my hands on from this author.

My only criticism at this point is the lack of relatable female characters. The women are either conniving, simpering, or so hard they might as well be men with breasts. And so far their contributions to the story has more to do with what they can offer the men rather than instigators of plot advancement. It’s a minor criticism because I still enjoyed the hell out of this book, but it did affect my rating, so that’s why I’m highlighting it. When compared to Brian McClellan (a writer I’ve been reading alongside Abercrombie who has incredibly similar components but ALSO manages to give satisfying characters of both genders), you can see why my current reading experiences would lead me to believe the lack of relatable female characters is was a missed opportunity worth mentioning. However, Glokta might be good enough on his own to compensate tenfold…

Recommendations: Before They are Hanged was a fantastic continuation to the First Law Trilogy – removing all reservations I had about the series from the first one. It has one of the best characters in fantasy (Glokta), some gritty action, and a lot of substance. I’ll happily recommend it as a staple of the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Book: Starsight

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to. -Goodreads

The Review:

Starsight was a little weaker than the first book, but still brought the fun-factor in abundance.

The first half of the book left me wanting a bit… there were too many “convenient” plot points for my liking. Too many things left up to random chance all happening at once. So it took a great deal of suspended belief to get me through it. The writing also felt rushed. Like Sanderson didn’t have time to get the main character from point A to point B gracefully, so he just manifested a quick fix and BOOM: plot advancement. I think it was disappointing because I’m used to a lot more finesse from him. I can’t think of very many instances in his work where “just go with it” would be my advice, but it definitely applied here.

I also wasn’t crazy about the direction the plot took. The new characters introduced seemed… juvenile may be a little harsh, but the tone of dialogue and overall presentation brought the relative badass effect of the first book down a few notches. It became more fluffy, and I had signed up for a more serious we’re-fighting-for-our-very-existence type of story. Another factor could be due to the character voices the narrator performed for the audiobook, but I didn’t have any struggle with the first book, so something definitely changed, and my bet is on the overall tone of the text.

So with all of those concerns in mind, the first half of the book was… maybe not a struggle, but I wasn’t excited about what I was reading. However, somewhere in the last quarter of the book, Starsight picked up a killer momentum that won me back over. Things got serious, crazy new things were revealed, and the ending left me reeling. It saved the entire experience, and I’m back to being super eager to see what happens next. I’m sure if I didn’t have to wait for the next book, I wouldn’t feel the need to be quite so critical of this installment, but seeing as it’s all we’ll get until the end of 2021, I’m giving myself permission to be picky. ;P

Recommendation: this series is one of those I’d feel comfortable recommending to all members of the family 13+. It has that excellent mass-appeal, really fun characters, and it’s from an author I trust. Personal biases from this second book aside, the series as a whole has been delightful. Give it a go for something that manages to be both light and fun, yet still full of substance.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes